UND Law Students Published in North Dakota Bar Association Magazine
This fall, students at the University of North Dakota School of Law had the opportunity to take a new innovative course entitled Professional Writing & Communication. The course, which was designed and taught by Professor Mavrova Heinrich, offered students a chance to develop skills in the "other" types of written and oral communication lawyers are often expected to produce in practice. As part of the course, students composed a legal blog, drafted an advisory for a client, wrote a newsletter article for the North Dakota Employment Law Letter, and delivered a CLE presentation.
In collaboration with the State Bar Association of North Dakota (SBAND) and its executive director, Tony Weiler, students also had the unique opportunity to write an article for the State Bar Association's official publication, The Gavel. The idea for this joint project between SBAND and the School of Law came about in late summer before classes started. Monique Kingsley, the Publications and Communication Coordinator for SBAND at the time, suggested the topic for the article. Once school started, students enrolled in the class learned about techniques for writing bar journal articles, conducted interviews for the article, produced several drafts in the process, and worked to incorporate Professor Mavrova Heinrich's edits into their final product. The articles were then submitted for review to SBAND, which chose for publication the article written by Austin Lafferty, Brittany Wollin, and Magdaleno Gutierrez. The full issue of The Gavel is linked below, in addition to the published story.
MELVIN WEBSTER: PIONEERING THE USE OF RULE 3.1 TO GIVE BACK
by University of North Dakota School of Law students Magdaleno Gutierrez, Brittany Wollin, and Austin Lafferty
When Melvin Webster retired from his legal practice, he did not envision returning to work. But Webster's desire to give back to his community made him search for a way to remain involved. Rule 3.1 of the North Dakota Admission to Practice Rules gave Webster that opportunity. Rule 3.1 became effective on March 15, 2009. The Rule authorizes a lawyer to volunteer to provide civil legal assistance, under the supervision of an approved legal services organization, to individuals who are unable to pay for such services. On September 20 of this year Webster became the first lawyer authorized to practice under the Rule.
Applying for Authorization Under Rule 3.1
A lawyer seeking authorization to practice under the Rule must file an application with the State Board of Law Examiners, certifying that the lawyer is either presently licensed to practice law or has been licensed for at least five of the 10 years preceding the application and that he is not been disbarred or suspended from the practice of law. Certification must come from each jurisdiction in which the applicant has been admitted to the bar. The application must also include a signed statement by an authorized representative of the approved legal services organization that the applicant will be an unpaid volunteer, working under the supervision of the organization, and a sworn statement by the applicant that he understands the standards applied to lawyers practicing in North Dakota.
An Overwhelming Workload
Rule 3.1 allows lawyers to give back to the community by volunteering their services to bolster the limited resources of important legal services organizations. One such organization is Legal Services of North Dakota. Due to funding cuts, Legal Services is facing an ongoing struggle to staff its multiple locations across North Dakota. In key cities such as Grand Forks, for example, the Legal Services' office stands vacant. So, in August, Legal Services became an "approved legal services organization" under the Rule.
Jim Fitzsimmons, the executive director of Legal Services, sees Rule 3.1 as providing retired lawyers the opportunity to contribute their legal experience and expertise to organizations in need. Fitzsimmons states the Rule was aimed mainly toward retired lawyers, although it allows any lawyer who has been licensed for at least five years to practice under the limited circumstances of the Rule. By providing retired lawyers an easier avenue to volunteer their valuable knowledge, Rule 3.1 encourages them to lend their time and skills to legal services organizations in need of assistance.
A Lifetime of Experience
Webster was born and raised in North Dakota. After working on his family farm, and later as a teacher, he decided to pursue a law degree at the University of North Dakota School of Law. Webster views his experiences on the farm and as a teacher as instrumental in shaping the way he sees the legal profession. He believes working hard is the way to improve one's lot in life and help better others' lives.
When he retired in 2010, Webster decided not to maintain his license as a practicing lawyer, explaining: "Either you are an active attorney . . . or you quit, and I decided to quit." After retiring, Webster felt he owed something back to the community. He found volunteering with Legal Services was his way to give back. Webster worked as a legal intern for Legal Services for two summers during law school, focusing primarily on guardianship matters. His work with Legal Services provided the stepping-stone for his legal career. Now, Webster's volunteer work with the organization will again include guardianship cases, bringing him full circle back to the work that launched his career as a lawyer.
A Restricted Practice
Lawyers authorized to practice under Rule 3.1 are indivisibly linked to a specific legal services organization. The lawyer's authorization to practice under the Rule expires when the lawyer "ceases to be supervised" by the organization. In this instance, Fitzsimmons clarified Legal Services' supervision would cease when Webster no longer volunteers for the organization or when the organization no longer requires his services. Rule 3.1 requires that a lawyer not be paid for his work, but allows the legal services organization to cover the volunteer's actual expenses, if it so chooses.
While Rule 3.1 restricts a lawyer's ability to practice, other requirements normally imposed on lawyers in active status are lifted. For example, there is no fee imposed on lawyers applying to practice under the Rule. Also, lawyers admitted under Rule 3.1 are not required to undertake Continuing Legal Education courses unless the legal services organization for which they volunteer requires it. In this instance, Webster will be encouraged to attend the two CLE seminars offered by Legal Services each year.
Rule 3.1 gave Webster a chance to return to his roots and give back to the legal services organization that helped start his legal career. The Rule provides experienced lawyers an opportunity to volunteer their time without having to go through the long process of bar re-admittance. Legal services organizations will benefit from the much-needed aid these lawyers can provide. And hopefully, Webster is the first of many to take advantage of the Rule and provide an immeasurable benefit to their communities and to the State Bar Association of North Dakota.